The Church of England has been recommended to perform blessings for same-sex couples as soon as they have had a civil partnership or marriage.
The college of bishops will now decide whether to accept these new proposals. A report by the House of Bishops Working Party published on Thursday recommended that “clergy with the agreement of their church council,should be able to offer appropriate services to mark a faithful same-sex relationship.” Clergy will not be able to solemnise same-sex marriages without major changes in law in Parliament. However these blessings could be given to same-sex couples who have had a civil partnership or a same-sex civil marriage.
The Bishop of Buckingham, the Right Reverend Dr Alan Wilson, earlier this year criticised the Church of England’s refusal to allow blessings for civil partnerships, and said that some parishes were ignoring the ban in order to avoid conflict.
A report by the Church’s Faith and Order Commission in March urged priests not to treat the issue of recognising civil partnerships as “simply closed”.
Scores of such services take place under the radar across the country every year, usually called services of thanksgiving or dedication to avoid falling foul of the rules.
Liberal priests, who already conduct unofficial dedication and thanksgiving for gay couples, said the report amounted to the first official endorsement for what they do.
In June, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu – a leading equal marriage critic – pointed out that the Church offers blessings for sheep and even trees but not committed same-sex couples, something he said would have to be addressed.
Following the arrival of equal marriage in England and Wales, the Church of England has acknowledged that it must become more accommodating of same-sex relationships.
In July, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, admitted that the Church’s opposition to equal marriage had been “utterly overwhelmed” by passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act.
Whilst the Church continues to oppose marriage equality, Archbishop Welby stated the importance of building bridges with gay people to ensure “what we do and say demonstrates the lavish love of God to all of us”.
In October, Dr Williams went further in his remarks and said: “The Church has to put its hands up and say our attitude towards gay people has at times been appallingly violent. Even now it can be unconsciously patronising and demeaning.”